Eating too much lunch meat, bacon, hot dogs and such could worsen symptoms of airway diseases like emphysema and chronic bronchitis, a new study suggests.
These diseases, which cause inflammation of the lungs that make it difficult for a person to breathe, are commonly included under the umbrella term "chronic obstructive pulmonary disease" (COPD). Lung infections, air pollution or tobacco smoke are common triggers for flare-ups of the diseases and can lead to hospitalization among patients.
In the new study, researchers in Spain reported that the nitrates used as preservatives in cured meats produce reactive nitrogen species that could damage lung tissue, and excessive consumption of these food items might raise the risk of hospitalization among COPD patients.
During the investigation, 274 COPD patients were monitored for an average of two years starting with their first hospital admission for the disease. Among other information, the participants reported on their consumption of cured meats, such as ham, salami, pork sausage and bacon.
The study, published in the March 8 issue of the European Respiratory Journal, found that eating large amounts of cured meats -- more than one slice of ham per day, as example -- may aggravate symptoms of COPD, causing people with the condition to be readmitted to the hospital.
"Our findings provide the first evidence that an excessive intake of cured meat can worsen progression of COPD. We believe that adherence to current dietary guidelines, which recommend a moderate or occasional intake of cured meats, will be sufficient in order to avoid this excess of risk," study lead author Dr. Judith Garcia-Aymerich, of the Center for Research Environmental Epidemiology in Barcelona, said in a news release from the European Lung Foundation.
Other than limiting nitrate-laden foods, "other individual actions such as quitting smoking or practicing physical activity on a regular basis" may help prevent flare-ups of the disease, she added.
The study authors noted that their research was limited by a lack of information on changes in the patients' diets after their first hospitalization.
In addition, while the study found an association between greater consumption of cured meats and flare-ups in patients with the lung disorder, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
The U.S. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has more about COPD.
SOURCE: European Lung Foundation, news release, March 7, 2012